Battle Bards Episode 123: Guild Wars 2’s Path of Fire

With eagerness in their hearts, the Battle Bards rush toward another Guild Wars 2 soundtrack, ready to bask in the aural glory of this MMO that’s known for its incredible music. But hark! What is this Path of Fire? Join us for a listen through a soundtrack that one unnamed soundtrack reviewer has termed “bland and generic.” If that isn’t a back-of-the-box quote, we don’t know what is!

Episode 123 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “On the Banks of the Elon,” “Highland Hares,” and “Undead of Elona”)
  • “Main Theme”
  • “Sands of the Djinn”
  • “The Bounty Hunter”
  • “Legendary Ascent”
  • “Pricklepath Hollow”
  • “Welcome to Amnoon”
  • “Sands of Chaos (Percussion Version)”
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Listener Notes: Minimalistway
  • Jukebox Picks: “Main Theme” from Pharaoh, “Great Bustle” from Lost Sphear, and “Green Hill Zone Act 1” from Sonic Mania
  • Outro (“Veins of the Dragon”)

6 MMOs that shaped my gaming in 2017

2017 was an interesting year for my MMO gaming career. It wasn’t really marked by any super-huge new releases; in fact, the year was pretty anemic for new MMOs, period. We’re still seeing lots in development, but only a handful of big budget, big studio projects, and most of those are for the future. Instead, this year was mostly about returning to old favorites and continuing on in my adventures.

I am really glad that I’ve been doing a monthly “gaming goals” article, because it helps me track what I was playing over the course of the year. This was the first year where I fully did that, and it is neat to look back at my aspirations vs. realities while also following the threads of my gaming life. So with that in mind, here are the six MMOs that dominated my gaming time this year:

1. World of Warcraft

This past spring, I felt the need for a break following a nearly two-year run in the game. I was feeling listless and in need of variety and direction, and I am glad I took the time off. But sandwiched around that break were my continuing journeys in Legion, my endless experimentation with alts, my progress as an Undead Warlock (the highest I’ve ever leveled one to date!), and some excitement over Battle for Azeroth and Classic. I’m ending this year mostly focusing on bringing my Gnome Hunter up to speed while giving equal time to other titles.

2. Dungeons and Dragons Online

DDO was really the surprise experience this year for me. When I went back to dabble a little bit in it, little did I know that the DDO bug would bite me hard once more. I should have remembered how much I was in love with this game back in the day, and it’s only grown since then. I’ve had some amazing quests so far with my Gnome Artificer, although I still haven’t really found a guild that’s very active or involved. Hoping to change that in the new year, and also to see the game’s expansions as I start to get up into the double digits.

3. Lord of the Rings Online

This was pretty much a steadfast experience, taking my Lore-master through the remainder of Gondor and then finally into Mordor with the fall’s expansion. While I did try out some alts (Minstrel, Hunter), most all of my time was given to the LM. Mordor proved to be a tough slog with only a handful of interesting and engaging moments, and my enthusiasm for playing started to sap away by the end of the year. Still, I’m excited about Northern Mirkwood for 2018, so there’s hope left!

4. Secret World Legends

I had to say farewell to The Secret World and my character of five years this spring, and while that definitely was a hard blow, at least Legends injected some new life into this faltering title. Taking a new character through the game and getting her back up to where I had left off pretty much consumed my attention for the remainder of 2017, and hopefully by the time the new year clicks over, I’ll be ready for season two.

5. Star Trek Online

I think I had about a two- or three-month run back in STO, doing some of the newer content while dusting off my carrier and fleshing out missions I hadn’t run yet. It was… fine, I guess, but definitely not as memorable as I was hoping nor as long-lasting as trips back to the game in the past.

6. Guild Wars 2

Guild Wars 2 edges out FFXIV on this list by virtue of time, if nothing else. I put in about two months in this game vs. one in FFXIV, but both ultimately conveyed to me that I just wasn’t in the mindset to come back to either. There are so many things that I enjoy about GW2 but also so many things that really drive me nuts about this game that I can’t settle back into what used to be an MMO gaming mainstay for me.

Honorable mention: Elder Scrolls Online

Tossing this into this list because I should mention ESO for a few reasons. I really did want to get more into this game than I did, at one point vowing to make this my main summer title (which worked out as well as my plans usually do). But the allure of housing and the new expansion did get me to put in a few sessions, and it remains very, very high on my list of games to come back to soon.

Thoughts on the Guild Wars 2: Path of Fire reveal

With some pleasant time sunk into Guild Wars 2 this year, I’ve been in a self-proclaimed holding pattern of play and interest until the team revealed what’s going on with the expansion. I told myself that I’d look at the reveal with an open mind and then judge whether or not it would be worth getting back into and finishing up the previous expansion and season 3 to prepare.

First things first, I’ll give it to ArenaNet for a well-done expansion announcement. The studio primed its audience well, built the hype, and made the announcement fairly soon after the last episode of season 3 was released. Plus, not a lot to steal its thunder that day. It went over a lot better than the Heart of Thorns announcement debacle a couple of years back.

So what’s the deal? As the leaks a few months ago suggested, Path of Fire is a Crystal Desert/Elona-themed expansion that’s bringing in mounts as its big new feature. Five large zones, nine new elite specs, and an angry god returned to ravage the land.

The price is incredibly reasonable: $30 for the base edition, which is way cheaper than most MMO expansions these days (bar the free ones). $50 if you want to bundle with Heart of Thorns, which I’m sure surprised some people who were loudly advising people to hold off buying HoT this year an anticipation of getting it for free when the new expansion was announced.

But did it send me into a hype frenzy? Um… no, not really. I’m honestly very apathetic toward this expansion, which means that I’m probably not going to be on board with it over the next couple of months. It’s like ArenaNet is trying to hit all of my “most hated” zone buttons lately with jungles, volcanoes, and deserts, and I do not have these incredibly fond memories that some Guild Wars 1 players do for the Crystal Desert. Balthazar looks kind of silly as a villain, kind of an over-the-top He-Man bad guy (at least he isn’t a dragon, but there is a smattering of dragon talk in the reveal to keep that thread alive). The elite specs aren’t really doing anything for me either.

What’s perhaps most surprising is how much this expansion is “more of the same” for Guild Wars 2. The only truly new feature is mounts, which welcome to the MMO club on that, GW2. No new classes? No new races? No personal housing? I know everyone’s riding high on the excitement about this, but if anything, Path of Fire initially comes off as being less innovative and more cautious than Heart of Thorns.

That said, I’m sure it’ll be great and a welcome content injection for players. Lots of stuff to do, another story to enjoy, and hopefully wonderful music for me to accumulate at some point. But it’s not going to top my interest in some other titles right now, so that’s that, I guess.

Guild Wars 2: Retreading the past

My current reluctance to log in and play Guild Wars 2 comes from having content that I don’t especially want to do in front of me instead of the content that I do. Honestly, I’d rather be either doing zone clears or progressing into some of the story that I haven’t seen yet, but I feel compelled to wrap up Season 2 before anything else. Want to get everything wrapped up all nice and tidy-like before the next expansion comes out.

And here’s the thing: Season 2 wasn’t bad. Not Season 1 disjointed-and-grindy bad. The episodes are interesting, the storytelling and characters got bumped up a notch, and there are some genuinely clever locales. But it’s all the sort of thing I’d rather have only done once and never again, rather than being excited about repeating it.

One of my favorite cutscenes. Just really great blocking as a short silent film. My only quibble is that the ghost sister looks really weird, like she has doll makeup on or something.

Oh! Had some gems burning a hole in my pocket, spent them on aviator sunglasses. No buttflaps and floppy hats for me. I look like space police now.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand — the combination of very long story instances, odd mechanics, and having pushed through all of this in the past is less an attractor and more of a detractor for my interest. Maybe if the instances were broken up more? Sitting through a 45 minute instance like Hidden Arcana and having to master some brand-new techniques is very attention-intensive and exhausting in the end. Not terribly, but when I knew exactly how long it would take, my mind kept thinking about what was ahead of me and was left to do instead of just enjoying the moment.

I need to grasp and cling to the moment in these games. I’m bad at that, constantly running down a checklist of everything that needs to be accomplished to get where I want to go — usually all of the way through the main storyline to get to the current spot where everyone else is. Having a whole bunch ahead of me can feel oppressive if I let it. But when I just dial it back, get into a little groove, and focus on the present, it gets more enjoyable. And I know that if I keep taking steps forward, I’ll get to where I want to be in the end.

Guild Wars 2’s loot problem

As you might be able to tell from these screenshots, I recently wrapped up the personal storyline on my Guild Wars 2 Engineer, paving the way for progress in the living world and expansion. If we assume a fall expansion, it’s going to take some dedicated work to getting through all of these episodes. Maybe I’m slow, but some of them feel pretty long.

I kind of want to push hard to get through Season 2, because once I do that, I’ll finally get to some new stuff… and I wouldn’t mind having S2 in my rearview mirror. It’s a step up from the personal story, but I’ve been there and done that, and plant dragon and pale tree speeches and so on.

Right now I have two main methods of growing my character: getting more hero points for my Scrapper spec and unlocking/working on masteries. I’m not getting either of these just doing S2, but it’s something for the future. At least my character hasn’t arrived at a plateau on which there is no advancement.

So let’s talk about the other reason that I am not the biggest fan of S2, which is loot. Actually, it’s a problem systematic to Guild Wars 2 as a whole from what I’ve seen and experienced (which I admit has yet to cross over into the expansion and season 3). This is an MMO that throws loot at you left and right… and so very little of it is actually useful or interesting. I’ll finish up an episode and get a little bit excited at the loot explosion that happens, but then I realize it’s some currencies, some random crafting mats, and some bags and boxes of gear that is of no use to me other than breaking down into crafting mats to sell.

Don’t get me wrong, I like selling on the trading post and building up a nest egg, but an MMO player needs more than just money. Guild Wars 2 build a foundation on the idea that there wouldn’t be much of a gear treadmill, so once you have exotic gear you’re generally fine at all level 80 stuff unless you want to bend over backwards to get ascended gear for slightly better stats or contort yourself into knots for months to get legendary gear for slightly better stats and ostentatious armor.

What else is there? There’s no housing, so no housing items are going to be in loot tables. Pets and truly desirable items are going to be locked away in the gem store. Maybe if you’re a crafter, all of this lootapalooza is exciting, but what is there for everyone else? About the best thing I can hope for is that a piece of gear drops that has a skin I haven’t collected yet, but I’m pretty much beyond that with the common stuff.

Story, experience, sights, character progression… all of these are fine and useful motivators to pushing forward in a game, but I won’t lie and say that loot is unimportant. I’ve had similar complaints about the general unexciting loot tables of LOTRO — my longstanding main MMO, lest anyone think I’m just picking on GW2 here — because when there’s never any surprises, never any desirable or useful gear, never anything that’s going to make my night. It’s busy work, filling up my inventory so that later on I’ll have to salvage and sell it.

Loot should be useful.

Loot should be exciting.

And my point is that this is a darn shame. It’s not an immediate deal-breaker to playing the game, but it does make for a lesser experience in comparison with other MMOs on my rotation (again, in this one regard). Maybe I’m not looking in the right places. Maybe I need to be doing more guild missions, or fractals, or (shudder) raiding, or whatever. Maybe I should turn to crafting. I’m open to advise. But I agree with one forum poster that Guild Wars 2’s loot is “excessive and unenjoyable,” which makes it an area that could use some attention as we do barrel down into a new expansion.

What do you think?

Guild Wars 2: The sublime smugness of Trahearne

Is there a more smug face in all of existence than this one right here? You want to punch it so bad, even when he’s not saying anything.

When it comes to the vanilla personal story in Guild Wars 2, I find it best to grit one’s teeth, click “skip to end” any time it’s offered, and just get through it as quickly as possible. It wasn’t the most engrossing content when the game originally launched and hasn’t aged well, especially with those portrait dialogue screens. But for the sake of completion, I want to get it done.

I’m somewhere in the level 70 stretch, so I’m getting there, but it’s been a harder go than anticipated. The big problem is that there’s some issue with the game where it likes to randomly disconnect me while I’m in these instances, usually right at the end. It doesn’t do this in the open world, I’m not having internet connection issues, it’s something specific about the instances.

And you know how Guild Wars instances go — they’re not quick. There’s a lot of scripting and you could be in one for 20, 30 minutes at a time. Having one abruptly dump me out mere minutes from the end, only to find that I have to start all over again, is immensely frustrating. This has happened numerous times (again, ALWAYS in instances), and usually I’ll have to step away from the game for the night afterward because I don’t have it in me to run it a second time.

So I’ve gotten very paranoid about the instances crapping out on me, which means that I’ve been speeding through them and clicking past all dialogue as fast as possible in the hopes of hitting that finish line before the game notices that I’m there and tries to ruin my day.

Plus, it really didn’t help that in one instance, Trahearne simply stopped contributing altogether. He didn’t fight — I took this picture above to show how I’m fending off mighty undead while he’s thinking of his grocery shopping list for the week (probably all produce). Then, at some point, he wandered/glitched away entirely and I couldn’t finish the instance because he was supposed to trigger a script.

Nevertheless, I’m making progress and should be done with this stretch. I’m finding that making money is a relaxing side activity in Guild Wars 2, so it’s kind of enjoyable to be harvesting everything, breaking down everything, and then wrapping up a session by heading back to the trading post to see what kind of profit I can turn. I don’t have anything specific in mind to use this money on, but I find that in MMOs, it’s always better to have a fat wallet than a skinny one for when you need it.

I’ll also give Guild Wars 2 this: It’s absolutely the best MMO for jumping into really, really quickly and farting around for a few minutes. I can always just wander maps, explore a bit, kill a little, and log out, and even a spare five minutes seems better put to use in this game than others.

Guild Wars 2: Unearthing the Necromancer

Last night I made the decision to transfer my flag from the Engineer to the Necromancer in Guild Wars 2. It wasn’t a decision that I made lightly, since I’ve already poured a few weeks into this fledgling Engie, but I think it’s the right one for me. I wasn’t quite getting back into the groove that I once had with the Engineer, and when I gave the Necro a spin again, I was reminded of how much I really liked this class — and how much work I’ve already put into it. In fact, it’s probably my second most advanced character in terms of world exploration and story progression, so with the news of the upcoming expansion, it seemed like a good idea to work on fleshing that character out instead of continuing to build up a new one from scratch.

There were a few other factors in favor of this transfer. My Necro has my long-standing Guild Wars franchise name — Yeti Yesterday — that dates back to the original game (who was a Reaper there) and has a much better look, what with the light armor and all. I don’t know what it is with GW2 and medium armor, but is there a reason why it’s Trenchcoat City and nothing but? Light armor seems to have so much more variety in terms of visuals and much better designs. Yes, these are very froofy reasons, but still, such things matter.

Probably of more import is that I enjoy the variety of the Necro’s playstyle. First of all, pets. Total minion master here, even if it isn’t the most optimal or efficient. It’s just fun to run around like I do in WoW with a small horde of pets out ready to gang up on some unsuspecting centaur. And both dual daggers and the staff offer interesting combat, with the added option of going into death shroud for some nasty AoE attacks.

In terms of story progression, I left my Necro in a weird place. I never finished her personal story (I am around level 40 there), but have all but finished Season 2. So I’m going back to do the personal story, the last quest for Season 2, and then move on to the expansion. World exploration sits about 70% or so, which feels great.

I’m not really reading or tracking all of the expansion leaks that closely. I really like my current build and gear, so any new elite specializations are really going to have to wow me to earn a change.

I’m pretty excited about the switch and playing it going forward. Hopefully it’ll stick and I won’t have the buyer’s regret (so to speak). My only qualms with this character is that I have no idea what I was thinking with her looks, because she has this baby doll face that makes me go “ugh.” Might have to change that soon.